WIGAN firms have been fined thousands of pounds for employing illegal migrant workers.
Two Notification of Liability notices were issued to employers in the borough in 2012 by the UK Border Agency.
This compares with four in 2011, according to figures released under the Freedom of Infirmation Act.
The amount of fines racked up by Wigan firms related to illegal employment of migrant workers also fell dramatically, with businesses being hit with £38,750 in 2011 and £15,000 in 2012.
The largest penalty given to a business was £15,000 in 2011 and £10,000 in 2012, although this may have been subsequently reduced on appeal.
However, the data also showed that the agency’s staff received five referrals to postcodes in Wigan in 2012, an increase on the three given in 2011.
The UKBA also urged caution when interpreting the figures, suggesting that the same company could be visited by staff to be issued with the preliminary Notification of Potential Liability (NOPL) in one year and then given the civil NOL in the following year.
It was not possible for the agency to say how many illegal workers were found employed by Wigan companies, nor would it identify the offending businesses.
Illegal working is tackled by the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, which came into effect for those employed on, or after 29 February 2008. The act ensured that businesses who employ workers not authorised to take jobs in Britain are penalised with civil offences of up to £10,000 per employee, but does not criminalise them.
Employers have the right to object to fines within 28 days and can also lodge an appeal with the county courts.
A spokesman for UKBA said: “We have recently improved the employer guidance on the UKBA website, which now gives clear, up-to-date
guidance on conducting and carrying out document checks, as well as providing images of the documents considered acceptable for proving right to work.
“Consequently, an increased awareness of the regime, which has been in place since 2008, has led to an increase in compliance among employers.
“In addition, the agency’s work in summer 2012 under Operation Mayapple targeted enforcement activity on overstayers, including students whose leave had been curtailed. This activity drives up compliance across the board.”
Louise Courtney, co-ordinator of the Leigh Asylum Seekers and Refugee Service (LASARS), welcomed the action being taken against companies who take on people working illegally, often on very low wages and poor terms.
She said: “It is good to note there is a low number of employers being convicted and they are taking the issue seriously.
“However, there is still a large number of cases where people have been waiting for their claims to be considered for more than five years, with potentially around 200 in Wigan.
“They cannot drive and are forbidden to work for all that time, so we would like to see the money from fines spent on extra resources at UKBA so they can process cases faster.
“Illegal working does not benefit asylum seekers and doesn’t benefit the community, so we are pleased to see a crackdown on it.”